Over 1,000 people have lost their lives in Boko Haram attacks since the terror group was declared “technically defeated” by President Muhammadu Buhari in December 2015.
This is the finding of Daily Trust on Sunday from figures recorded in 181 attacks, including the one in Biu, Saturday, that have been reported in the media.
The total number of deaths recorded between December 2015 and now stands at 1, 088 and with the official figure of deaths recorded in the Biu suicide attacks yesterday, the number now stands at 1,101.
The findings show that the group seemed to have had more impact in 2017 than it did in 2016, doubling the number of casualties it recorded.
The group killed 379 people in 57 attacks in 2016. This number includes 327 civilians, 49 soldiers and 3 immigration officers, while 2,200 people were reported injured in these attacks.
In 2017, the group recorded three times more attacks than it did in 2016, with a reported 124 violent incidents, including the suicide bombing in Biu, Saturday, blamed on the group. These attacks caused the deaths of 637 civilians, 68 soldiers and four policemen, bringing the total number of people killed to 709 so far.
With the 13 people officially reportedly killed in the Biu suicide bombing, the number rises to 722, representing a 90.5 per cent increase from the previous year.
Attacks by the group have left 536 people injured in 2017, representing a drop of 75.3 per cent compared to the figures of 2016. These figures were recorded in 124 attacks.
What this suggests is that Boko Haram has recorded more fatalities in their attacks in 2017, implying that the group’ attacks have been more efficient in terms of recorded fatalities than in 2016.
During these 181 attacks in over two years, 602 insurgents have been reported killed. This figure does not include instances where the military reports that it had killed “many” or “scores” of insurgents.
Analysis of the figures shows that while Boko Haram increased its efficiency in 2017, it somehow managed to reduce the number of its foot soldiers killed in 2017. For instance, while 413 insurgents were reported killed in 2016, 189 insurgents have so far been killed in 2017, representing a drop of 54.2 per cent.
The explanation for this is that in 2017, Boko Haram changed its modus operandi, mostly avoiding direct confrontations with the military and focusing on soft targets instead. Most of the insurgents who lost their lives in 2017 did so during suicide bombings.
Far more cases of suicide bombings were recorded in 2017 than in 2016 and these pushed up the number of civilian casualties in Boko Haram attacks. The attack in Mubi, November 22, was the highest with 50 worshippers killed during a suicide bombing at a mosque.
However, the highest number of insurgents killed in confrontation with the military recorded on February 1, 2017, when 35 insurgents were killed in Buk, Damboa Local Government Area of Borno State.
Compared to 2016, the insurgents suffered heavy losses during clashes in Musari, where 58 insurgents were killed on March 20. In Kotokuma area of Dikwa, 37 insurgents were killed on February 28, while another 35 lost their lives in Bulari on April 21, followed by another 25 in Kangarawa on July 2.
Interestingly, Boko Haram’s attacks are spread over the three northeastern states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa. However, all the reported killings of insurgents took place within Borno State.
These figures are alarming considering that in December 2015, six months after coming into power, President Muhammadu Buhari declared that Boko Haram had been “technically defeated”.
The declaration was made on the back of military successes in recapturing large swaths of territory the brutal group had taken control of. At its height, in January 2015, Boko Haram controlled major parts of Borno and Yobe states as well as a significant chunk of Adamawa State. Their control of about 20 per cent of Nigeria’s land mass was the excuse then President Goodluck Jonathan gave for postponing the 2015 elections by six weeks.
Since President Buhari succeeded Jonathan, the group has lost significant territory and is no longer in control of any major town. However, observers claim Boko Haram still controls some remote villages and their capacity to threaten displaced persons from returning to their villages has never been in doubt.
Over two million people have been displaced by the insurgents in parts of Nigeria, Cameroon and Niger, a sizeable number of those are still afraid to return to their homes.
But the Nigerian military has made significant gains, pushing the group back into its stronghold of Sambisa Forest. However in December 2015, the military was able to take over a key Boko Haram base in Sambisa, prompting the president to make his declaration.
Despite this progress, the group’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, evades capture, prompting the Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Tukur Burutai on July 21, 2017, to issue a forty-day ultimatum to his men to capture Shekau, dead or alive.
At the end of August when the ultimatum elapsed, Theatre Commander of Operation Lafiya Dole, General Ibrahim Attahiru appealed for an extension of the period, to which the COAS agreed. The army has remained silent on when the new deadline is.
On more than one occasion, the Army declared Shekau dead, even if he had resurfaced in videos spewing threats and ridiculing the army. In defence, the army has claimed Shekau has a body double masquerading as the leader.
But what turned out to be Shekau’s greatest undoing was pledging allegiance to the Islamic State in March 2015.
Not long after, IS deposed Shekau as leader and appointed Abu Mus’ab Albarnawi, long reported to be the son of the group’s founder Mohammed Yusuf, as its new leader. Shekau rejected this and eventually a battle of supremacy followed, splitting the group in two.
Whatever advantages Shekau hoped to gain by aligning with IS has fallen flat on its face, if not backfired entirely. With the resultant infighting and IS effectively defeated in the Middle East, Boko Haram needed a new strategy to stay relevant.
If the numbers are anything to go by, the president’s claim that Boko Haram is incapable of mounting “conventional attacks” may not be far off the mark but the group’s efficiency in carrying out suicide bombings is increasing their capacity to cause maximum fatality, while reducing casualties figures on its side.
The group has employed mostly female suicide bombers, and sometimes even children, often working in groups to target people in places of worship as was the case in Mubi and or in markets as was the case in Biu yesterday.
Both attacks employed twin suicide bombers and targeted groups of civilians going about their normal businesses in what is increasingly becoming a signature attack for the terror group.
Last week, President Buhari again dismissed the group, saying its suicide bombings were “the last kicks of a dying horse.”
Speaking through his minister of information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, during a commissioning ceremony in Adamawa, the president said, “Let me be clear: Boko Haram has been massively degraded and its surviving members put on the run. In their desperation to stay relevant, they have resorted to the wicked and dastardly act of using innocent under-aged children to carry out suicide bomb attacks.
“What we are witnessing now are the last kicks of a dying horse. A dying horse manages to engage in some kicks. These kicks may be dangerous, but they don’t last long. Progressively, they become weaker and weaker until the horse finally gives up.”
He assured that they are developing new strategies to completely nullify the group and has approved the establishment of an intelligence fusion center in Maiduguri, which will gather and share intelligence among security agencies with the hope of preventing these attacks. For Nigerians eager to get on with their lives without fear, this horse cannot die soon enough.
• Daily Trust on Sunday.